When David Lloyd’s wife Ann, died, he hit a level of loneliness he says
he never could have imagined. Today, he stood among some two thousand
people who had been there.
As the Washington area marked the first day of a weekend teeming with
public events commemorating the nation’s fallen service members, some
1,500 adults and 500 children filled the Crystal Gateway Marriott here
in an effort to help themselves and each other deal with the grief of
losing their very own military heroes.
U.S. sailor rings the bell as the name of each person lost at the
Pentagon is read during the Pentagon Memorial dedication ceremony Sept.
11, 2008. The national memorial consists of 184 inscribed memorial units
honoring the 59 people aboard American Airlines Flight 77 and the 125 in
the building who lost their lives Sept. 11, 2001.
The 18th Annual TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar & Good Grief
Camp for Young Survivors offered four days of events to help the
families of those who died while serving in the military cope with their
grief. Sponsored by the nonprofit TAPS – Tragedy Assistance Program for
Survivors – the seminar includes numerous sessions for adults and
children ranging from coping with suicide to helping siblings and
children to understanding survivor benefits.
“As the surviving family and friends of members of the Armed Forces, we
share a very special bond of service and sacrifice to our nation,” TAPS
Founder and President Bonnie Carroll said. “We have in each other our
most powerful resource for comfort and understanding. This is a safe
place to spend time with others who have experienced a similar loss and
understand the pain we all carry.”
David Lloyd and his wife, Ann, were soldiers with the 3rd Army Division
at Fort McPherson, Georgia – David, a lieutenant colonel, and Ann a
major. Ann was away at training, preparing to deploy, at Fort Gordon,
Ga., in November 2006 when David got the call that soldiers there had
found her dead in her room from a blood clot.
With their two daughters, Rhaynae and Nicole just five and 11 years old,
respectively, and the family living off base with no relatives nearby,
Lloyd quickly decided to retire. “I had a new job then” – as a full-time
father, he said.
The family got by as best they could, returning to their routines, and
some happy times, too, Lloyd said. But he was concerned that the girls
weren’t dealing with their loss at the same time he was trying to figure
out his own grief.
It all caught up with him one night shortly before retirement, Lloyd
said. “I was very much alone in the office that night,” he said.
Lloyd picked up a magazine among the papers on his desk. “I couldn’t
even tell you what the magazine was,” he said. “I just flipped it over
and there was TAPS” advertised on the back cover. The ad included a
hotline for grief counseling. He didn’t hesitate in picking up the
phone. The TAPS volunteer spoke with him in exactly the way he needed,
“When I called, it just opened up a new world to me,” he said. “Then I
understood I was not alone. It was just one of those things, one of
those defining moments,” he said.
Lloyd returned to the annual TAPS seminar for the fourth time this year,
mostly for the girls, he said. “It’s therapeutic for them.”
Rhaynae, now 11, looks at it as going to camp and playing with other
children who have lost parents, and Nicole, now 19, has come a long way
in dealing with her grief, Lloyd said. It was only a year ago that
Nicole asked what her mother had died from. “She just didn’t want to
know,” he said.
“This place makes you see the kids in a different light,” Lloyd said.
“You just know the hurt [they’re going through], then you see them
laughing and you know this is a great thing.”
Other parents also voiced concern that their teens and young adult
children also wouldn’t talk about their loss.
When Shelann Clapp’s husband, Army CW5 Douglas Clapp, was killed in a
helicopter crash along with Army Brig. Gen. Charles B. Allen and five
other soldiers near Fort Hood, Texas, in 2004, Clapp quickly sought
support with TAPS and other groups, she said.
“It helped me that I was employed,” said Clapp, who works in education
and is a doctoral student. “I just had to keep going. I didn’t know what
else to do.”
Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the seminar about losing his wife and
infant daughter, and how it made him understand how people can
contemplate suicide. Clapp said his message resonated with her.
“I didn’t want to go on; I didn’t know how,” she said. “I was married to
this man longer than I had lived without him.”
While Clapp worked through her grief, her then 18-year-old daughter,
Jennifer, did not. “She kept telling me she didn’t want to talk about
it. She was angry, but she couldn’t say why.”
The Claps marked a milestone today when Jennifer, now 27, attended the
seminar for the first time with her mother. After just one day of TAPS,
Jennifer said she was glad she attended.
“I never really dealt with it,” she said of losing her father, but being
at the seminar forced her to think about it and realize she wasn’t
alone. Jennifer said she felt better about her loss when she met a
mother of three young children on a Metro train this morning. The
woman’s husband, a service member, recently died.
“It really opens your eyes about what people are going through,”
Jennifer said. “You think you’re the only one it’s happened to, then you
meet others who have it just as bad.”
“We’re very much about survivors helping survivors,” said TAPS
spokeswoman Ami Neiberger-Miller, whose brother was killed in action in
Iraq in 2007. “We find people come, first for themselves, then they come
for others,” she said of TAPS mentoring program.
Bob and Kitty Conant attended the seminar for the first time this year,
and went through mentor training. They said they hope to help other
grieving families by being TAPS mentors. “It’s about coming alongside
them and listening and being there for them,” Kitty said.
couple, from Valencia, Calif., said their religious faith has gotten
them through the loss of their son, John, an Army sergeant, who died of
an undiagnosed heart condition, miocardial arythmia, on April 10, 2008.
“He just had a duty station change and he’s serving the supreme
commander now,” Kitty Conant said of her son’s death. “He just went
Conant, the second of four boys, three of whom serve in the military,
had been in the Army 15 years and completed two deployments to Iraq and
one to Haiti when he died suddenly. While his heart problems were
unknown, he had been battling post-traumatic stress and seemed to have
turned a corner in the months before his death. He had started calling
again, having long conversations with his parents, and reconnecting with
his brothers, one of whom he had started to bond with in their shared
PTSD and combat experiences. John found out two days before his death
that he had been cleared to return to Iraq, his parents said.
While John’s death was a shock, the Conants say they are content in
knowing that he died doing what he loved. “He had wanted to be a soldier
since he was a Cub Scout,” his mother said. “That was his dream.”
Ellen Andrews, TAPS Defense Department liaison, said participants find a
bond that lasts years. “This is like a family reunion for us,” she said.
“This is the group no one wants to belong to, but we’re so glad it’s